Pets Continue to Suffer from Vet Shortage

An injured dog receiving veterinary care

An injured dog receiving veterinary care
Last November I reported on the severe shortage of veterinarians and vet technicians in our area and throughout the nation. I learned from a study by Mars Veterinary Health and other sources that there aren’t enough vets to cover the current demand for pet medical care. One reason is the rise in pet adoptions over the past three years. In fact, Lorie Westhoff of told CNN that adoptions were up by 70% between March 2020 and March 2021 alone, mainly due to more people wanting companionship during COVID lockdowns. The other more serious reason is that fewer folks are becoming veterinarians while the vets we have are cutting back on their hours and dealing with record turnover among vet techs. Sadly, one-half of all vet techs tend to burn out and quit within their first five years on the job. The result of these disturbing statistics is that pet owners are experiencing excruciatingly long wait times for routine care, even if they have an appointment. Even worse, if your pet needs emergency surgery after hours or on weekends, there’s a good chance he’ll end up dying from not being able to receive timely care.

Lest you think I’m being dramatic, allow me to recount an experience that my wife and I had recently. It was on a Sunday morning and without reason or warning our dog Albert developed severe bloat and was clearly in distress. Unbeknownst to us then, his stomach had become twisted and his life expectancy down to just hours. We took him to Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Greensboro who most area vets refer to for 24-hour emergency care. Upon arrival, we were told that there was no one on staff who could perform surgery. We were then handed a typed list of other emergency vet hospitals to call that were located within a 50-mile radius of the Triad. I immediately started calling them one-by-one, and one-by-one they were either closed or had no surgeon available.

It was becoming clear that Albert was not long for this world when I noticed a phone number scribbled on the side margin of the list. The notation read, “Reidsville Veterinary Hospital.” I called their number and the receptionist said, “How soon can you be here?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I had located the one vet hospital between here and the hereafter with an honest-to-God surgeon on duty. Upon our arrival, Dr. Joseph Kinnarney took x-rays of Albert, and within minutes we were informed that surgery must be performed immediately in order to untwist Albert’s stomach. Long story short, Dr. Kinnarney saved Albert’s life, but our emotions were torn between relief and anger. Relief because Albert was alive and well, and because we had stumbled onto one of the most respected veterinary surgeons in the country. Anger because all of the other so-called 24/7 emergency care vet hospitals weren’t what they claimed to be.

By all rights, we need a state regulation that would strip any vet hospital of its license if it falsely advertises 24/7 care. Meanwhile, if someone’s pet dies after being turned away by a 24/7 clinic, we should be able to sue that facility for damages.

The problem is, those remedies would just add to the vet shortage that we already have. And it’s a shortage that’s going to get worse in the coming years. Mars Veterinary Health reports that based on the current demand for pet health care, 41,000 vets will need to enter practice over the next 10 years. The problem is that only about 2,600 graduates become veterinarians each year, which means that by the year 2030, we’ll have a shortage of 15,000 vets. Banfield Pet Hospital estimates that such a shortage will mean that 75 million pets will go without proper vet care in seven years.

The good news is that some states are taking progressive action to address this crisis. Arizona, for example, recently passed the Arizona Veterinary Loan Assistance Program which will reimburse student loans up to $100,000 to vets who graduate after January 2023 and agree to work in Arizona for four years, with two of those years spent working in a city, county, or nonprofit shelter. Other states like North Dakota now offer a variation of that program. And while such assistance can abate the vet shortages long term, we still have a crisis that demands some short-term and immediate remedies. Liz Hughston, president of the National Veterinary Professionals Union calls this crisis, “a slow-moving tsunami.” But New York vet Maureen Luschini told that there’s nothing slow-moving about it. Said Luschini, “Emergency care cannot be guaranteed for your pets right now.”

As with any serious crisis there comes a time when local, state, and federal government agencies need to step up and lend a hand. This is one of those times. According to Forbes, 66% of U.S. households (87 million homes) have a pet, and our dogs and cats deserve access to veterinary care. For one thing, the North Carolina legislature should adopt the Arizona plan which will help us lessen vet shortages down the road. For now, though, our lawmakers need to allocate funds to ease the immediate crisis by helping emergency vet hospitals stay open and adequately staffed 24/7. In the meantime, if your four-legged friend needs emergency care, you can either rent a private jet and fly to Arizona, or you can call Reidsville Veterinary Hospital at 336-349-3194. We opted for the latter. Thank God for Dr. Kinnarney.


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